New laws to end mobile coverage ‘no bar blues’

  • New rules to connect the field to 4G faster and speed up 5G deployment
  • The changes in the law will reduce the need for new telephone antennas and increase the signal on the roads
  • Comes with protections to preserve the rural landscape and minimize the impact of new infrastructure

Reforms to planning laws will mean that fewer cell towers will be needed overall to bring the country up to par with better 4G and 5G mobile coverage, as telcos will be able to upgrade existing infrastructure rather than build new towers.

Mobile network operators will have more freedom to build new and existing phone masts up to five meters higher and two meters wider than current rules allow. This will increase the range of masts, create space for additional equipment needed for faster networks, and make it easier for operators to share infrastructure.

The government will impose strict new legal duties on operators to minimize the visual impact of network equipment, particularly in protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas, world heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The Minister of Digital Infrastructure, Julia López, said:

We’ve all felt the frustration of having the ‘no bar blues’ when struggling to get a phone signal, so we’re changing the law to eliminate mobile ‘no points’ and mark the launch of next-gen 5G.

Phone users across the country will benefit, whether they’re in a city, town or on the road, and stricter rules on the visual impact of new infrastructure will ensure our precious countryside is protected.

5G offers download speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and is set to revolutionize our daily lives, industries and public services by powering revolutionary technologies such as virtual and augmented reality services and self-driving cars.

The move will help deliver £1bn led by the government Shared Rural Network it is being built to eliminate 4G mobile ‘no points’ in the field and enable communities to enjoy the revolutionary benefits of 5G technologies sooner, including specialized robots and drones that boost productivity in agricultural industries.

The plans will also bring better mobile coverage to road users by allowing building-based masts to be placed closer to roads. Families and businesses will also benefit from faster 5G rollout by making it easier for operators to use buildings to house their kit.

Hamish MacLeod, CEO of Mobile UK, said:

Building the mobile networks that provide the connectivity we all rely on is complex and challenging. The sector welcomes the reforms to urban regulations proposed by the Government. They will enable operators to more efficiently deploy mobile networks to meet ambitious rural and urban coverage targets, including next-generation 5G.

In its response Following extensive consultation on the plans published today, the government confirmed that it will make amendments to the Town and Country Planning (General Development Permitted) (England) Order 2015.

Changes to existing permitted development rights include:

  • Existing mobile masts will be hardened without prior approval so that they can be upgraded to 5G and shared between mobile operators. This would allow the width of existing masts to be increased by up to 50 percent or two meters (whichever is greater) and, in unprotected areas, allow increases in height to a maximum of 25 meters (previously 20 meters). Larger increases will also be permitted subject to local authority approval;
  • New masts to be built up to five meters higher, meaning a maximum of 30 meters in unprotected areas and 25 meters in protected areas, subject to planning authority approval;
  • Buildings to house smaller masts (up to six meters above the building) in unprotected areas without prior approval to speed up network upgrades and reduce the need to build new masts;
  • Building-based masts to be installed closer to public roads subject to prior approval to improve mobile coverage for road users;
  • Cabinets containing radio equipment to be installed next to masts without prior approval and to allow greater flexibility to install cabinets in existing complexes (fenced-in sites containing masts and other communications equipment) to support new 5G networks;
  • Conditions to ensure that telecommunications equipment does not block sidewalks and access to properties.

Mobile operators will still need to obtain the agreement of the landowner before building any new infrastructure. All new ground masts will also need to be approved by local authorities, who will continue to have a say in where they are placed and what they look like.

Strong conditions and boundaries will also be maintained to ensure communities and stakeholders are properly consulted and the environment is protected. a new Code of practice for the development of wireless networks in England has been released today to provide operators and councils with guidance to ensure the impact of mobile infrastructure is minimized and proper engagement with local communities is carried out.

Housing Minister Stuart Andrew said:

Ensuring that as many people as possible, wherever they live in the country, have access to fast and reliable mobile coverage and digital connectivity is crucial to our leveling vision.

These planning rule changes will help carriers give more people access to cutting-edge 5G and enhanced 4G coverage, while protecting our precious natural landscape.


Notes to editors

  • The government intends to advance the changes through secondary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
  • In addition to changes to permitted development rights, the government will amend the definition of small cell systems to ensure that it encompasses new and emerging types of wireless technology.
  • Operators will also be required to notify relevant authorities when building new infrastructure near airfields and defense assets.
  • Planning permission requires that a planning application be submitted to the appropriate local planning authority for consideration. The permitted urbanization rights grant an urban license, without the need for an urban application, for certain types of urbanization. Certain permitted development rights are subject to the requirement to seek prior approval from the local planning authority for the location and appearance of infrastructure prior to development. Where prior approval is not required, the developer must notify the local planning authority of their intent to implement.
  • Planning is a decentralized political area. As such, the reforms will apply only to England.

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